Juliane Moore and Colin Firth in Tom Ford's "A SINGLE MAN"
EVERYONE KNEW HE COULD PUT TOGETHER A GLOSSY PACKAGE, BUT A SINGLE MAN SHOWED THE WORLD THAT TOM FORD HAD A SOUL, AND WASN’T AFRAID TO BARE IT. NOW, WITH OSCAR BUZZ HEIGHTENING, HE TALKS ABOUT FILM, THE FUTURE, AND WHY A RETURN TO WOMEN’S FASHION MAY BE IN THE CARDS. MAYBE
Photography Tom Ford
Tom Ford’s Los Angeles office has a most peculiar feature: a giant two-way mirror that preys on the narcissism of passersby, thus providing (according to Ford) hours of entertainment. He’s seen Britney Spears touching up her makeup before braving the paparazzi and Nicole Richie rearranging her layers—both blithely unaware of the handsome man observing from within.
But with the designer’s latest venture, as a film director, Ford has found himself in front of the mirror, looking at his own reflection and allowing the rest of the world to watch him. His first film, A Single Man, based on the novel by the same name from Christopher Isherwood, tells the story of an important day in the life of George Falconer, a heartbroken Englishman living in L.A. and reevaluating his quality of life. It’s a character Ford tells us he can relate to.
Ever since Colin Firth, who plays George, took home the Best Actor prize at the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, buzz has been building. And with awards season around the corner, we decided to take a closer look at the film’s main characters, shot by Ford himself, and find out what the perpetually put-together designer-director is up to now. (Hint: it looks like he’s doing womenswear!) Derek Blasberg
DEREK BLASBERG When did you first read this Isherwood story? TOM FORD I read it right around the corner, on Larrabee Street, where I lived in my early 20s in the early 1980s. I was single at the time, and I just fell in love with the character George; he was so believable to me, and I would fantasize about bumping into him and helping him. DB Did you ever meet Isherwood?? TF Yes, my first boyfriend, Ian Falconer—whose last name was the basis for George’s last name in the movie, as he doesn’t have one in the book—was living with David Hockney, and David knew Christopher. I met him a couple of times. We weren’t friends; I’m sure I was just some kid to him. Once at David’s, I did some mescaline and ended up shaving off one of my eyebrows. DB You’re kidding. Sometimes eyebrows don’t grow back! TF It took six weeks to grow back. I was an actor then and I couldn’t work. Anyway, we went to [the club] Studio One, and I can remember that everyone was a pigeon. So I freaked out and went home and was having major hallucinations. I can remember fighting with my eyebrow: “If I could just shave it, shave it off, just get rid of it…” So I shaved it. I never did mescaline again.
DB That story is retold by George in your movie, and he tells it with the same calm and candor as you do. TF If you watch George, that’s me. Calm on the outside—cool, collected, and together. DB And on the inside? TF Emotional and romantic and dark. I had a friend of mine say to me the other day, “I’ve always thought of you as a beautiful lacquered box from the 1920s with a platinum handle. But now, after seeing the film, I know there’s something inside the box.” DB Why do you think people see you as one-dimensional? TF I think fashion people get a hard rap. It’s because we work in one thing, and a lot of times people don’t realize that’s just part of what we do—that there’s depth, that we have thoughts and feelings, romance and depression, sadness and happiness. DB Speaking of fashion, what about this womenswear we’re all hearing about? TF Ha! I’m not sure about that yet. DB C’mon, tell us. Are you doing womenswear? TF Most likely. I’m not positive. At its earliest, it would be Fall 2011. That would be the earliest season I could have it in a store, if I were to start right now. DB It’s not like you’ve been fully out of the game, though. I know you did Tim Jeffries’ wife’s wedding dress, and the green dress Julianne Moore wore to the premiere in Venice. TF I make things for friends. But I don’t have an atelier, so it’s very hard to do. It’s different than when you have forty people in your own atelier, like I had at Saint Laurent. I’m also off the cycle. Fashion is like a soap opera, and I haven’t seen a few episodes. I need to get back into it. DB Have you missed it?? TF I miss designing for women, because it’s a lot of fun. You can do so much more. Women’s fashion in our culture is the most representative of what the beauty standard is at the moment: When we’re in a flashy moment, women can be flashy. When we’re understated, women are understated. Men? I love what I do with menswear, but it’s much more subtle. DB Do you watch what others are doing? TF I do, but it’s sporadic. I haven’t looked at anything from this season because I’ve been busy promoting this film. But before Christmas, I’ll sit down and look at everything on Style.com. DB Any favorites? TF Nicolas Ghesquière was always my favorite. I think Stella [McCartney] has really come into her own—I don’t think she’s ever looked better in her life, and she’s in an absolutely good place with her brand. I’ve always been a fan of Alexander McQueen, and Tomas Maier. I love Karl [Lagerfeld]. There’s a lot of people I love. I mean, Miuccia [Prada]? C’mon! I’m not talking about specific collections, but in terms of what they stand for. I think fashion has a lot of great people.
DB Didn’t you once say that making this film was, in a way, like collaborating on a womenswear collection? TF Yes, you have to have a vision, and you have to be able to communicate it to others and encourage them in a way that you get the very best. For me, at least, what I do in fashion is very true and honest, but it’s only part of me. It is more superficial. I put a large part of myself on the runway, but I’m not putting my soul on the runway. Some fashion designers do, some are artists; I am a commercial fashion designer, who is artistic and participating in an artistic endeavor. But it has never been art for me. DB Is this film? TF I’m not trying to say that my movie is art, but it was the most purely expressive thing I’ve ever done. DB So how did it feel to come out of that lacquer box? TF It felt wonderful to do, but it scared me. Now I’d like to close that box again. DB What were your concerns? TF There is a lot of my own life in the film. People say that when you start to write something you should always write what you know, so I had to ask myself, I know what I am as a fashion designer, but what am I about as a filmmaker? What do I believe in? Why should anyone see a Tom Ford film? DB Were you worried about reviews? TF When you put that much of yourself out there, of course you’re terrified. Terrified! But I’ve never let potential terror or fear stop me. In my adult life I’ve understood that if I put an enormous amount of love and honesty into something, usually that shows in the end. DB How was your first stab at directing? TF I read somewhere that a good director does his directing when he casts his film. DB You just give them the intention. TF One of the greatest moments I’ve ever seen on film was Bill Clinton being questioned about Monica Lewinsky. It’s breathtaking. Someone asks, “Did you sleep with Monica Lewinsky?” And Bill says very calmly that he hadn’t. Then he’s asked, “Did you insert a cigar in Ms. Lewinsky’s vagina?” There’s this wave that just moves over his face and you can just feel Clinton thinking, “How do they know that? FUCK!” He says he didn’t, but his face says everything. Nothing moves: it’s just this wave that washes over him. One of the things I told to Colin when we shot the scene where he hears the news about his lover’s death was that it was all about his face, that it was all about that contained anger. And then all I had to do was keep the camera there and watch him do that. DB Was it intimidating on your first day of shooting? TF I was very conscious of making it look like I knew exactly what the fuck I was doing. But, sure, I didn’t sleep the night before because I was terrified of having to say “Cut!” in front of a bunch of people. ? DB When you were filming, were you soaking in the moment? TF I loved every single moment of the process. DB And was the film’s release and the accolades the glorious moment you’d been waiting for? ? TF No, it’s my least favorite part. Promotion? It’s the least enjoyable. Same with fashion: I like designing, I like making the garments. But I hate doing interviews, I hate being photographed. No one believes that, but it’s true. I hate having my picture taken. DB Really, Tom? TF Yes! Look at the movie. It says everything you want to know about me. Now I’m going back in my lacquered box.